Currently reading: Hyundai's second UK market foray, 11 October 1986 - Throwback Thursday
Hyundai followed up its first UK model, the rear-wheel-drive Pony, with a competitively priced front-wheel-drive car which Autocar tested in 1986

Hyundai’s first UK car market foray came with the rear-wheel-drive Pony, which went on sale in 1982 for £3075.

The South Korean manufacturer soon filled a niche at the lost-cost end of market that was being vacated by the Japanese car companies, which were finding that a rise in the value of the yen was forcing them to increase the prices of their cars.

The second Pony to reach these shores was a much-changed machine compared with the one masterminded by former Austin-Morris boss Sir George Turnbull. Like its predecessor, it still used powertrains sourced from Mitsubishi, but it had an up-to-date front-wheel drive platform, Giugiaro styling and a more sophisticated interior.

A wider choice of variants was offered, including a four-door saloon that Autocar tested in 1.3 GL trim in late 1986. At £5149, it undercut similar-sized 1.3-litre rivals such as the Ford Orion and Vauxhall Belmont by around £1500.

The 1296cc engine produced 66bhp at 5500rpm and 72lb ft at 3500rpm. Our testers described these figures as “average outputs for the capacity, which endow the 900kg Pony with adequate, rather than sparkling, performance. A glance at the rivals’ figures shows that a maximum speed of 95.6mph is about par for the budget 1.3-litre class”.

Of the performance, our testers said: “From a standstill to 60mph takes the Pony 13.3sec, achieved with considerable tramping from the front wheels and gritting of teeth from the driver, for the engine becomes very noisy and quite harsh when revved hard, which for many drivers would discourage brisk motoring. Nevertheless, cruising is reasonably relaxed at the legal limit.”

While outright flexibility wasn’t bad – 30-50mph in fourth gear took 11.8sec, quite competitive by class standards – in practice you had to use lots of revs as well as lots of throttle to make real progress.

“Inevitably, fuel economy suffers,” we said. “The test car achieved an overall 28.8mpg in our hands, which is below par. The touring fuel consumption of 37.1mpg, too, is unexceptional, giving a modest range of 326 miles from the 40-litre (8.8-gallon) tank.

“The gearchange is not as good as its Japanese heritage might suggest. Once the gearbox oil has warmed up, the change is easy enough, but it remains a little notchy and smooth progress isn’t helped by a clutch with an abrupt, over-centre action.”

Our testers deemed the Pony a long way behind European rivals when it came to dynamic prowess: “This is not a car designed to attract the enthusiastic driver, so the chosen handling balance is an understandable decision. It has the merit of being completely failsafe, with understeer building up rapidly as the modest grip limits approached. Lift off halfway round a bend and the Pony will do little except scrub off speed and allow the driver to tighten the line with the steering if necessary.

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“This inert behaviour is reflected in the steering, which has rubbery responses and lacks feel around the straight-ahead position. Weighting, however, is fine on the move but heavy at parking speeds.”

However, the ride at higher speeds became “choppy, with a restless vertical bounce on anything but billiard-table surfaces”, although “in the suspension’s favour is that it is quiet in operation and isolates road noise effectively”.

Our testers praised the cabin: “The seats are soft but adequately supportive, the driving position is comfortable with all controls within easy reach, and there’s a good view both fore and aft.”

We concluded: “At its attractive price, the well-built Hyundai makes a lot of sense for the motorist who asks no more than to have simple, no-frills transport. But for the driver who looks to a car to provide a measure of driving pleasure over and above the driving function, the search is better directed towards a more sophisticated European supermini.” 

Previous Throwback Thursdays

18 October 1989 - VW's vision of a 21st century Golf

2 April 1986 - Figuring the MG Metro 6R4 rally car

10 March 1979 - A Rover SD1 with a difference

4 September 1996 - The original Porsche Boxster driven

5 April 1986 - Audi Quattro vs Porsche 944 Turbo

16 May 1987 - Ford Escort XR3i Cabriolet

17 October 1981 - The £12,000 baby Aston Martin

16 January 1985 - The launch of the Sinclair C5

15 April 1960 - Porsche's four-cylinder roots

17 August 2004 - The Honda NSX's last hurrah

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Andrew 61 12 May 2016

"the well-built Hyundai makes a lot of sense"

I think that was Hyundai selling point, although it does not show up in a short test drive. European competitors may have offered a more sophisticated driving experience but Hyundai's build quality was better. Something that Hyundai still likes to remind people of today with its five year warranty.
LP in Brighton 12 May 2016

Was it really that bad?

Hyundai is now the fifth largest global car company. It must have been doing something right back then, even if minicab drivers were the only ones that knew it!
Overdrive 12 May 2016

Must've been before the

Must've been before the minicab favourite, Hyundai Stellar.